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US 2050 climate strategy must do better

America’s decarbonisation plan for the next three decades is a good start but needs improvement

America’s strategy to reduce emissions and decarbonise its energy sector has been criticised as lacking ambition and “inequitable” by environmental groups at the UN climate negotiations in Marrakech.

The new 2050 roadmap for improving efficiency and moving to a low carbon energy system was announced on Wednesday at the 22nd Conference of Parties (COP22), along with plans from Mexico and Canada. It followed the release of Germany’s plan, which laid out new environmental policy for Europe’s biggest economy.

Outgoing US climate envoy Jonathan Pershing described it as an “analytical exercise” rather than a new policy roadmap, while environmental groups were dissatisfied with the outlined pathways, describing them as inconsistent with the Paris Agreement targets to limit global warming.

The new plan centres on three main policy areas. First, decarbonising the national energy system through transforming its building, industrial, electricity and transport sectors; second, reducing emissions through carbon capture, storage and other technologies; and finally, reducing non-CO2 emissions, especially methane and nitrous oxide produced as a byproduct of agriculture and waste.

The plan promises to quickly and drastically slash dangerous carbon pollution by calling for a phase out of nearly all fossil fuels in the next thirty years, increasing economy-wide efficiency by 20%, and reforesting 50 million acres of US land. It broadly lays out policies which are in-line with the US target to reduce net emissions by 80% by the middle of the century from 2005.

“The announcement of this ambitious, bold, and achievable new plan to decarbonise our economy sets a clear path forward for the US to follow, while continuing to grow our booming clean energy economy,” wrote Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, America’s largest grassroots environmental organisation, in a statement.

Nathaniel Keohane, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund called it, “A long-term vision that underscores an underlying ambition to achieve deeper reductions in the long-run.”

However, environmental groups were adamant that the plan does not go far enough in light of new scientific research from the IPCC that says countries must cut emissions significantly by 2020 if countries are to have a chance of meeting the 1.5C high ambition target.

“The 80% goal is simply not ambitious enough to be in keeping with the goals in the Paris Agreement. It is also not sufficient from our perspective to be considered equitable, said Kelly Stone, policy analyst at Action Aid, an NGO that fights against poverty and injustice worldwide.

She added: “Developed countries need to be driving down their emissions much more deeply and much more quickly before 2050, and not after.”


Germany, US, Mexico and Canada also published plans at climate summit this week as part of the UN’s 2050 Pathway Platform initiative, which is intended to support countries in low carbon economic development.

A number of countries are expected to participate, including Costa Rica, the US, Switzerland, Peru, UK, Marshall Islands, Canada, Sweden, Norway, Ethiopia, as well as the European Commission. China and India are rumoured to be working on their own plans.

Although not legally binding, the pathways are important as a basis for discussion in the lead up to a global stocktake of country emissions, which will inform a “ratchet process” where nations update their earlier emissions reduction pledges and accelerate their progress in 2018.

The German plan laid out an ambitious intergovernmental carbon trading scheme where different government ministries exchange carbon credits to achieve greater near-term emissions reductions.

"While the plan contains good sectoral targets for 2030, certain gaps still need to be addressed," said Christoph Bals, executive director of policy at the NGO Germanwatch.

"The plan does not yet include all the necessary measures to meet those sectoral targets. This is particularly evident with regards to coal. The power sector target translates into a path for reducing coal and lignite consumption by two thirds by 2030, but this is not yet spelled out clearly enough. German civil society will make sure the next government has to deal with these gaps,” added Bals.

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